July 13, 2010 -- Drivers in New Jersey who don't speak English must be informed of the consequences of refusing to take an alcohol breath test in a language they understand, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.
No other states require translations of the statement, though some, including New York and Washington, provide access to translators, and others, including New Jersey, have made some translations available by computer or in print, says Jeffrey Mandel, who filed a brief in support of the Marquez case for the state's Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
"I think other states are going to follow New Jersey's lead," Mandel says. "It should not logistically be an issue for police departments — every department has access to computers, with laptops in cars or at stations." The ruling does not require translators be available on short notice or allow for a "too drunk to understand" defense.
State Attorney General Paula Dow's office maintained state law did not require the statement to be understood, just that it be read. Spokesman Peter Aseltine says the decision gives immunity to any drunken driver who speaks a language that the officer is unable to identify or translate.
"There are over 150 different languages spoken in New Jersey," Aseltine says.
Since April, New Jersey has provided police with a website with the statement in audio and written form in 10 languages widely spoken in the state. State police have used the website at headquarters before administering the breath test, said a spokesman, Detective Brian Polite, but there are no statistics available as to how often.
Parsippany, N.J., Police Chief Michael Peckerman says that typically, all drivers charged with driving while impaired are read the statement at the station prior to police trying to administer the breath test. He could not say whether the foreign-language website had been used yet in Parsippany. He says he expects the case will result in more litigation as defense attorneys try to push the limits of the new ruling.
Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, called the ruling "a step forward" to dealing effectively with the states' population. More than 1.5 million immigrants live in New Jersey, and a quarter speak a language other than English at home, according to U.S. Census statistics
"If you can use the language a person speaks, it benefits not only that individual person, but the police work as well," he said.